The Tragedy of “American Sniper:” It takes a Shot at History and Turns It Into Deadly Jingoism 

STEVE JONAS, Senior Editor


SniperRifleUSMC(Photo: USMC)

First let me say, dear reader that this is a political commentary, not a movie review.  If you are looking for the latter, please be so kind as to look elsewhere.  And now to the matter at hand.

“American Sniper” has stirred up the Right (see Fox”News”, etc.) and it has stirred up the Left. The Right sees the movie as one about a “patriotic American,” “doing his duty to protect our country and the freedoms it stands for.” The Right sees any critic of the film, as a commie, as a traitor, as “un-American,” if not “un-Christian” (for after all, sniper Chris Kyle was fighting the Muslims, wasn’t he?) The Left, and of course I include myself in that group, see the movie in much more complex, much starker terms.

First, referring to the standard Right-wing propaganda lines, oddly enough Kyle didn’t see himself as “fighting to protect the American way of life” at all. Rather, when asked a direct question on a Fox ”News” show, he said that he did what he did in order to protect his buddies. Then, there is the well-discussed historical fallacy that the Iraq War had anything to do with 9/11. There was an old canard, widely splashed about by The York Times’ widely forgotten (yes, I had to look him up) Nixon-flack William Safire.  It held that a representative of Saddam Hussein’s government went to Prague, Czech Republic, to meet with a representative from al Qaeda.  That trip of course meant that they were hooking up to plan dirty deeds.

The story has long since been disposed of as false, most recently by no less an authority than Sen. Carl Levin, recent chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Do you really think that a secular Hussein, already facing strong threats from the United States, would have formed an alliance with a religiously-based terror organization that had originally been formed in Afghanistan by the same United States? The historical distortions are a minor tragedy, but a tragedy nevertheless.  As is very well known, the war was sold to the U.S. public on the basis of the lie told by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Powell/Bliar that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.  Furthermore, the aforementioned knew that they were lying because the very intensive investigation by the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, unrestricted by his own account, had turned up nothing.

Second, there are the questions that have been raised about the movie’s definition of heroism. There is a great 2001 film about the Battle of Stalingrad (one of very few Western films about the Soviet role in winning World War II) called Enemy at the Gates. The hero is a Red Army sniper. The villain is a Wehrmacht sniper. But hero/villain depends very much whose side he is on. Too many in the U.S., Kyle is/was a hero, but a sniper on the other side would be a wicked villain, killing people with abandon.

Third, and much more importantly, this film can and should be used to revive the whole argument about the invasion of Iraq, why it was done, what it has cost the U.S. in casualties, money spent, and major disruptions of our society (most of which go unnoticed), and the much, much higher toll of Iraqi dead, injured, and made refugees. What we are seeing now in terms of the turmoil of the Middle East, which was unleashed by the U.S./U.K. invasion. This is one of the major tragedies of our era. We need to re-visit the ultimate villains of the piece, the Bush/Cheney alliance and the people who worked for them. We need to revisit how the Bush/Cheney drive to create permanent war, which was much more important to them than the drive for oil and bases, has put our nation into the perilous state in which it finds itself, and use the film to help us do that.

Fourth, another tragedy was of course that while Kyle was an operative, he was also a victim. He suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (who wouldn’t, having gone through what he went through, under orders) as did the vet who eventually murdered him. A majority of the vets of Iraq/Afghanistan suffer from some degree of diagnosed or undiagnosed PTSD. The suicide rate among them is remarkable, and historically unprecedented, about 22 per day.

Fifth, we should be saying to the Right, “what are you so excited about?” Despite the killing of service members like Kyle, the Middle East is a mess and the U.S. is in the middle of it—as chief architect. It is the ultimate tragedy of the U.S. War on Iraq.  Should we really listen to the McCains and the Grahams who, though they won’t say it out loud, really think that the solution is “put more boots on the ground?” After all, before the 2008 elections, and after Bush was forced by the Iraqi government into negotiating the eventual U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, McCain was saying that the U.S. should stay there “for a hundred years.”

If the U.S. should be “strong,” should be “tough,” just what is it that you on the Right have in mind, other than slogans? Where is the money going to come from? The costs of the Afghan and Iraq wars so far have been estimated at up to $6 thousand billion (that’s 6 trillion).  How are you going to convince the majority of U.S. people that it is in the U.S. national interest to go to war on the ground in the Middle East once again? And how many more Kyles and their murderers at home, how many more tragedies, do you want to create? How many more people do you want to glorify for killing people from a safe, secure perch?

Finally, this is a movie designed to make certain U.S. feels good about the War on Iraq, based on the false idea that it was in response to 9/11 and that, as Kyle was recorded as saying in the movie, the Iraqis are “savages.”  Is it not a tragedy that it has become the best-selling war movie of all time?  Another victory for Cheney/Bush and their War to End All Peace.


 

Postscript:  This column drew an unusual number of comments, almost all supportive, and many adding important additional perspectives.  Please see a selection of original comments in the Appendix below.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash@Truthout he is the Editorial Director of and a Contributing Author to The Political Junkies for Progressive Democracy (http://thepoliticaljunkies.org/), and a Senior Editor, Politics, for The Greanville Post, (https://www.greanvillepost.com/). Dr. Jonas’ latest book is The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022: A futuristic Novel, Brewster, NY, Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, http://www.puntopress.com/jonas-the-15-solution-hits-main-distribution/, and available on Amazon.


APPENDIX
Select Comments

    • “American Sniper” is the first propaganda step to get the American public to accept putting U.S. soldiers back into the Middle East and prosecuting what is turning out to be an eternal war for … reason to be determined later. And it seems to be working.

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      American Sniper is propaganda. Period. “left or right” doesn’t matter because it is so blatantly obvious even a child, tea party idiot or someone in the midst of receiving a shock treatment induced coma gets the message.

      “How are you going to convince the majority of U.S. people that it is in the U.S. national interest to go to war on the ground in the Middle East once again?” This may not be the dumbest thing ever posted on the interweb but anyone reading it is certainly risking a few, maybe more, IQ points.

      Movies like this are served up with a purpose and maybe citizens need to ask just what that is. Is the immediate goal to advance more boots on the ground in the ME or is it to advance more boots on the ground Africa or is to advance more boots on the ground in the Ukraine?

      That about runs the gamut of choices since it is first and foremost about advancing boots on the ground “ideas”. We’re just not sure where.

      That’s the suspense all good flicks promise.

      Can hardly wait for the third act.

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      A violence-prone nation glorifying its violence.

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      What’s the difference between a US soldier and a Mafia hitman? The Mafia hitman knows killing bystanders is bad for his business; the US soldier knows it is good for his.

      Kyle was part of the original military wing of both al-Qaida/Iraq and ISIS/Iraq.

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      This movie does not present anyone as a hero. It merely is a straightforward narrative of this sniper.
      Just because some Right Wing whackos like the movie is no reason to be against it.

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        Thank you for demonstrating the effectiveness of defunding education.

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        It IS fascist, imperialist amerikan propaganda! Any of the deluded masses that see it will be further down the sorry road of brainwashing.

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      This is a fine article, but I would point out that an average of 22 VETERANS commit suicide every day. The number of active duty soldiers committing suicide is a closely guarded secret, but in the first six months of 2014 it is thought to have been 161. Also, only 40 states contribute data to the Veterans’ statistic, so the actual number is almost certainly higher. “An army of one” indeed!

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      Today we find that “American Sniper” was pulled from being shown in Baghdad movie theaters. We should be asking, what fool came up with the idea of showing the movie anywhere in Iraq. Remember that too many of the people who watch this film and come out cheering will go back home and continue to play video war games.

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      The worship of mindless, unrealistic, immature fantasy homicidal violence by young men in this country is a matter of great concern, relieved only by the fact that these fantasists are too hipped on their own uniqueness ever to form an effective mass movement. They would wind up devouring each other like a jarful of immature praying mantises.

      I say let the Southern states where most of these assholes live secede (first removing every trace of federal military property). They’ll try to conquer Mexico and get their American Sniper asses handed to them. And good riddance. What’s left of the U.S. will be far better off without this subhuman filth.

      In the meantime, just keep a weather eye out for demented snipers in YOUR neighborhood.

      It would be just plain wrong to go sniping for them.

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      For the Republican-Tea Party lovers of war, American Sniper has been a stimulant for expressing their American Exceptionalism. Which means that the proponents of using American lethal force and military power believe they have the God-given right to kick ass on anyone who we don’t like — which is almost everybody today.

      American Sniper has been a manna of sorts for the Bush-Cheney war cheerleaders and apologists. It is a cathartic response to the pent-up emotions of those who still doggedly believe there were W.M.D. in Iraq and the justification for the war of genocide that put 4,500 U.S. military in body bags and over 100,000 Iraqi men, women and children in their graves.

      Several references to Al Qaeda In Iraq (AQI) were cleverly woven into the movie’s blood-lust for exacting revenge on those who perpetrated the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Of course, there was no Al Qaeda In Iraq until George W. Bush and his retinue of warmongers created them. But, no matter. Fiction easily became fact and an effective propaganda tool.

      Don’t try to tell anyone who lauds American Sniper that the 19 airline hijackers who flew the planes weren’t directed by Saddam Hussein. Of the 19 hijackers 15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 were from the United Arab Emirates, one was Egyptian and one Lebanese. Yet, there was no mention of the nationalities of the airline hijackers in the movie. After all, anyone with “swarthy skin” color (Ann Coulter’s description of those of Middle East descent) is a justifiable enemy.

      Shortly after one of the opening scenes in the movie Chris Kyle was standing in front of his tv watching the horror of the 9/11 attacks and the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers. Then, the scene shifted abruptly to Kyle’s SEAL training before he departed for the first of his four deployments to Iraq. From there, the Sniper began began his legendary exploits against a country’s citizens who had nothing to do with America’s security or interests in the Middle East.

      Also, there was no mention of the time lapse between the 2002 war in Afghanistan where the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were operating and the time when Kyle deployed to Iraq for his first tour. Apparently, for the director Clint Eastwood, the Bush war of choice in Iraq was a higher priority than that messy one in Afghanistan where Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

      Monday, February 2, newly-elected Texas Governor Greg Abbott, declared Chris Kyle Day as a state holiday. It is an odd form of hero worship for a governor who raised money for his winning campaign by appearing with the pedophile and 4-F military reject, Ted Nugent, who was declared physically, mentally and morally unfit to serve by the Selective Service System.

      The Texas legislature has at least 8 gun bills moving through their latest legislative session which convenes every two years. Most of the “lawmakers” want to allow openly carried guns in every location in the state including the state capitol building, schools, churches, courthouses, restaurants and grocery stores and even into college classrooms.

      Of course, those who choose to openly carry and brandish their weapons may live in an even more heightened state of paranoia not knowing that a sniper lurking in the shadows may have them targeted in his cross hairs as they move cautiously through the aisles of Wal-Mart and Hobby Lobby.

      Odd, how those who whine and screech about all those “Hollywood liberals” sing a different tune when one of their own produces a feel-good war movie about a mentally disturbed man who declared how much he enjoyed killing people, so much so that he ignored his own family’s difficulties and priorities so that he could hide behind protective enclosures and kill people for the fun of it.

      Avatar

      Kyle used a .338 Lapua Magnum rifle; most US snipers used a really big .50 cal rifle and a lot of those had explosive tips. I didn’t waste my time on the movie,but presume they showed the effects of the bullets. We need to have a film titled, “It’s fun to blow up Grandma” and make sure that the viewers see the mangled bodies caused by the drone strikes that have murdered many hundereds of civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistsn. They actually killed a grandmother who was picking okra in her garden. Make all the cheerleaders for war see that movie.

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        Waste the time. See the movie. It is flat out propaganda. Period. What would Sun Tzu say?

        And NO, the killing were sanitized in the way audiences in the homeland inc. demand. Reel violence for a candy ass citizenry bloated on propaganda and popcorn.

        Bang, little red spot, fall down, lie still. Cue military music. Crowd cheering. Cut to flag waving. Repeat.

        No screaming, writhing in incoherent agony, no shitting, no pissing, no calling for momma, no begging and none of the other things real folks shot in real life do.

        Similarly, PTSD is treated as a bit of emotional confusion where the “hero” expresses no concern much less remorse for the humans he killed. Which is about as real a portrayal as the killings themselves.

        See it.

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        So, true, they watch American Sniper as vindication…in what…vindication despite the fact it was all based on lies. That’s major league cognitive dissonance or what really is a survival mechanism. They can’t face the reality that everything they believe is completely untrue. Yet, it doesn’t end there. It’s not only that they can’t face reality. They don’t care to know. They don’t want to know. They absolutely refuse to hear anybody or anything that dares to cast doubt on the fantasy. It’s truly psychotic.

 


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